Inspiration for Writers Writing craft

Tension And Conflict Part I


Welcome to CAN’s new website from Gail Gaymer Martin. Today I will begin a new series on Tension and Confict which is a driving force in fiction writing. I hope you enjoy the seven articles on this topic.

The Set Up to Tension and Conflict
I recently presented a workshop on tension and conflict. The topic offers many steps to writing a good novel. I began this workshop with the basic elements needed to begin a novel because it sets up how conflict begins. Conflict is a concept you know is vital to any story. It is what drives your story and is an event that causes action between the opposition and the main character. Tension, on the other hand, is the character’s reaction to the event. This reaction arouses emotion of the character and the reader. Emotion is a must in any novel.

Vulnerable Characters
Major characters must be vulnerable. They have flaws, weaknesses, fears, and sinful behaviors which they often are trying to hide. Immediately you find tension inherent in this situation. Whenever a character wants to avoid facing a truth, tension creating emotion happens. Another side of these flaws and weaknesses might be the character’s inability or avoidance to face them. It is denial. I am not impatient. I do not look at everything in a negative way. I don’t feel sorry for myself. When you look at your own flaws, you can relate to this problem. No one wants to admit what makes them less than perfect.

Characters’ Goals
Every major character needs a goal. It is something they want to gain or something they want to avoid. They want to gain a good reputation. They want to avoid gossip. They want to find the treasure. They want to avoid being found. They want to find the killer. They want to avoid being killed. They want to find love. They don’t want to give up their freedom.

Goals fall into three other categories: possession, relief, or revenge. The character wants to possess wealth, charm, good looks, success, love. The character wants relief from fear, loneliness, hatred, domination, pain, sorrow. The character wants revenge for a loss, betrayal, lie, robbery, prejudice. You can add to the list with your own ideas that fit under possession, relief or revenge. Keep these ideas in mind as you create goals for your characters. Make sure the goal has issues that will create conflict.

The Hook
Every novel needs a hook, a premise that draws the readers in and an event that makes them curious or ask questions. A hook is introduced when something happens. It can be the result of a new character entering the scene, receiving a letter or phone call, being offered a proposition, reading something in a newspaper, or a character’s startling statement. Whatever it is, the thing that happens is best when it adds surprise, makes the readers ask questions, or creates an emotion that pulls the reader along.

Next, the “happening” creates opposition to the character’s goal. Opposition is conflict. Well-known writer, Dwight Swain, in his book, Techniques of the Selling Writer, says that conflict can:
• Hinders
• Complicates
• Blocks
A goal is hindered when another conflict or another goal gets in the way, especially a goal that must be reached before the larger goal is accessible. Complications can involve an accident, another person demanding time or energy, a new piece of information that changes the direction of the goal. Finally goals can be blocked when someone gets there first or when someone removes options. I’m sure you can think of many other things to add to this list.

The next article will cover the Nature of Conflicts.


Writing craft

Right There, Right Then: Immediacy

"MaureenPeace to you! Maureen Pratt here with my monthly blog about specific aspects of the writing process. Today, I thought I'd highlight some suggestions about immediacy in our writing.

Whether we're writing fiction or non-fiction, we want our prose to carry the feel of immediacy, or a sense of time and place that draws the reader in to the exclusion of all other distractions and detractions. Compelling central plots do this to a certain extent, of course, but to carry someone along for the duration of a book requires some hooks-within-the-hooks. Immediacy boosts action to a more lively level, and it helps root scene and character to-the-minute instead of somewhere, out there, in time. 

For example, let's say you and I just won a shopping spree (here's the plot hook), but the event takes place in the wee hours of the morning on an excruciatingly hot day and the air conditioner in the store is broken (here are distractions from the initial excitement of the primary hook) and we're both just getting over the flu. Feel your enthusiasm waning, even just a little? What if we added a treasure hunt within the spree, perhaps a very valuable diamond ring is hidden somewhere among the merchandise, and we get to keep it if we find it – a hook-within-a-hook that can motivate beyond the heat and discomfort and bring an immediacy and action to something that might otherwise be more descriptive than dramatic.

Immediacy is helped along by avoiding gerunds (pardon the pun!) and connective phrases, and by precision. "We were looking in the shoe department hoping to find…" becomes "In the shoe department, we found…" or "We were running out of time…" becomes "We only had six minutes left…"

In non-fiction, creating immediacy makes facts come alive. This is not the same as fictionalizing a situation or place, but rather is expressed in the way various details are described. For example, perhaps you need to write a piece about your church's Sunday prayer service and potluck. Beyond the "who, what, when and where," paint in the "why." Why does one person always bring a fruit salad? Why does a particular worship song bring tears to a young man's eyes? Why does the assortment of dishes provided always seem to satisfy, even if no one plans it down to the ingredients? The "why" allows for personalities to come forward and details to leap to life in their daily context – immediacy in the making. It also helps build empathy between the reader and story.

Another strong technique for non-fiction is to write about what's going on outside a particular place or event as a backdrop for what is going on inside. I was able to do this in an article I wrote for Saint Anthony Messenger Magazine ( last year, when I contrasted the freeway traffic humming outside a school with the beautiful music of a children's choir within it.

For inspirational non-fiction, such as a devotional or prayer book, immediacy comes from the specific examples you can write about that illustrate the point you are trying to get across. Think Our Lord teaching in parables. So, an essay on coping with pain becomes lessons learned from someone's journey through a dark valley of pain.

To create your own sense of immediacy while you are writing, practice this: Imagine your reader only has sixty seconds to spend on your story. Imagine the seconds ticking by (or place a clock that ticks off the seconds next to your workspace) as you write. Feel the pressure of that time passing, disappearing, and taking away your reader. At the end of the minute, put your work aside for awhile (a few hours, or even a day). Revisit it, and see the difference in what you wrote while under the immediacy of pressure – you might really like it!

The more in-the-moment writing can be, the more powerful, and immediate, the pull for the reader to keep reading, no matter what else is going on in the world around.

Joy and peace,